What is the meaning of life? I could probably quote a half dozen or so answers from different religious faiths and philosophical schools if that were the question, however, the question I am addressing is one of a much more complex, personal, and intuitive nature: what is the meaning of my life? Encased in one question are a hundred others, each as difficult to grasp as an electric eel, wriggling and shocking when you get too close. What am I here to do? What do I want to do? As I sat here and thought about the questions at hand, three people came to mind, each as influential and thought provoking as the next: my mother, father, and good friend Ines. These are my teachers, my sages, my holders of holy wisdom and wine glasses, my confidants, my accomplices, my past, my present, and most definitely, my future. These are the people that have taught me some of the most important lessons and the ones who have shown me my meaning of life.
I first met Ines in sixth grade. We were introduced by a friend we had in common and quickly became tennis partners. A couple of times every week we would meet in the local park and play a friendly game of tennis. In a life filled with harassment and pain, these times with her, as the sun was setting on the hills and the cool air of night had just started to whisper across my skin, was a welcome respite. It never occurred to me that a friendship between a forty year old woman and a thirteen year old boy was odd, and if it did to her, she never said anything. Eventually, we stopped playing tennis and I became friends with her daughter who was only a year older than me. I still spent a good amount of time with Ines and I don’t think she will ever understand what she did for me, for, in truth, I don’t even understand all she did. What I do know is that she showed me hope, light, love, and joy, yes, above all else joy. Ines, at forty-something, was still dancing to the beat of her own drum, still living young and with a vigor that some teens find hard to match, still enjoying life and giving joy to others. As I got to know Ines better and met more of the people she knew and cared for, I became increasingly aware of the significant role she played in so many people’s lives. She reminded us to live, not just carry on in a meaningless existence with nothing but our material wealth to show for our troubles. She had fun! And so did we. I want to be that for someone; I want to be a place of love, of boardgames and hot chocolate, of stories read aloud, of laughing at stupid jokes and laughing just for the sake of the act, of listening and understanding, of playing tennis in the sunset.
My dad is an actor at the Shakespeare Festival, a good one I might add. I never quite understood how good he was until I saw him recently. Sure, I’ve been going to his shows since I was little, but only recently have I been old enough to recognize the talent he displays, the passion he has for his craft, and the gifts he gives to people through his art that he doesn’t even notice. I have watched people in an audience cry as my father performed, moved by his agony. I have seen others frightened by his fury, wooed by his charm, and entranced by his skill. Though, acting isn’t my calling I can appreciate the talent he has. I want to be that good at something in my life. I want to be able to do something I love that isn’t only beneficial to me, but helps others, even if it is in the smallest of ways. Not only do I want to be that good, I want to encourage others to find their passion; to find their voice and never let it go no matter how hard it gets. I want to be an example of what can be done when you truly love something and don’t let anything get in your way.
Of all the lessons I have learned, this is possibly the greatest. My mother has been a Christian for the better part of her life. She raised me as a Christian, and, though I have left the Church, I can still respect her choices and her beliefs. As I pursued my own path of spirituality, however, I started to question why she believed what she did. When I asked her I had an answer in my mind that I was expecting to hear, but what I would be told in reality is one of the most beautiful statements I have ever heard said, period, bar none.
She said simply, “Maybe there isn’t a God. Maybe everything I believe is wrong. Maybe when I kneel and pray to Jesus, no one is listening.” I sat there, shocked into silence, a state I am not often found in. But she continued. “Does it matter though? My faith has taught me to be the best person I can be, to love unconditionally, to forgive, to be compassionate, and to understand others. If I’m wrong, oh well. At least I know that I did all I could and gave all that I possessed.”
I sat there stunned. From my mother’s lips I had heard an idea so beautiful and powerful that I wanted to cry, to laugh, and maybe to do it myself; not become a Christian, but to live my life in a way I can be proud of. She showed me that the meaning of life can be as simple as loving and showing compassion for all those around you.
So, in answer to what is the meaning of my life: I simply don’t know. I know some things that I want to do, some things that I want to be, some gifts I want to give, and some that I want to receive. But if I were to guess what I am here for, I would say I am here to be a beacon of love and happiness for anyone who would find shelter by me. I am here to share whatever gifts I have and to tell others that they can, and should, too.
What I do believe, is that at the end of my life I will be able to look back at my life and see what I was supposed to do, see what my meaning was, and smile. And hey, if I’m wrong, oh well.